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Talking social media strategy, policy with the DoD

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SmartBrief on Social Media is helping to sponsor the upcoming Rethinking Corporate Communications conference here in Washington, D.C., this week. I was lucky enough to get a head start — landing some advance time with Jack Holt, chief of new media operations at the Department of Defense and one of the event’s speakers.

ROB: Explain your role at the DoD and how it came about?

JACK: The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review contained a framework and direction called the Strategic Communication Road Map, the key tenet of which was to learn how to communicate in the 24/7 new media environment. Working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense Press Operations team, I was tasked to the New Media Directorate and charged with fostering a test bed for learning how new platforms are changing communication patterns.

There are quite a few registered social media sites from all of the military services in a wide variety of channels (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc.). Is there any centralized control over content on these sites?

Not really. You cannot “control” content any more than you can control a message. You have to educate, equip, empower and encourage and that implies trust. You have to trust.

How are each of these sites/channels managed from a personnel perspective? Does each service differ?

Each branch of the armed forces has a different social media presence, based on what channels they think are best for them. One caveat, though, is that each organization must negotiate a terms of service to which the U.S. government can agree, and the organization must designate someone with the authority to sign it.

Many of us, public and private sector alike, are struggling with how to create internal social media policies. The Department of Defense’s stance on social media is magnified. On one hand, our men and women in uniform depend on many social technologies to communicate with their family and friends in distant locations. On the other, information security is as critical as ever. How do you balance this conflict?

It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone accesses these sites from government computers. We do not regulate what servicemen do on their own computers, but we encourage them to practice information safety on their own home systems. We believe strongly in educating them and letting them take that training home to their families and friends. If it’s good for the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, it’s good for their families.

When it comes to social media best practices, what do you think the Department of Defense can learn from the private sector?

Trust in employees — or in our case servicemen. Trusting our troops means embracing open collaboration with others outside of the structured hierarchy of their team/division. We call this horizontal communication “self synchronization.” It allows for increased agility and optimally, aggregated, archived and shared knowledge.

On the flip side, what can the private sector learn from the impressive work being done by your team at DoD?

Don’t get stuck in your thinking. Don’t look for answers or solutions, look for a path. And understand that it may be up to you to blaze it.